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How ModelCo grew from a pet project into a global brand

Shelley Sullivan started ModelCo in 2002 with the idea of bringing innovative beauty products to the masses. Early products included a heated eyelash curler and aerosol self-tanner – the so-called ‘tan in a can’ – and the brand quickly became a cult favourite.

Today, ModelCo’s range spans self-tanner, skincare and cosmetics and is sold online around the world. The brand recently embarked on a collaboration with world-renowned fashion designer, Karl Lagerfeld, while Sullivan was named retail executive CEO of the year by CEO Magazine.

But it hasn’t always been smooth sailing. In this interview, Sullivan tells Internet Retailing editor Heather McIlvaine how she has adapted to the changing beauty and retail landscape, and what’s next for the brand.

Heather McIlvaine: Can you provide a snapshot of the business today? 

Shelley Sullivan: The last three years has seen the brand focused on the Australian business, particularly around the MCo diffusion line. The strategy going forward is to redevelop and relaunch ModelCo premium cosmetics, going back to our roots of must-have, innovative, smart beauty. Further expansion of our global distribution is also a key focus for 2018, and the foothold has been made internationally in retail partners such as Boots to see exponential growth.

We currently have around 120 SKUs, which will almost double once the ModelCo premium cosmetics range is relaunched. Our product categories are: self-tanning, skincare, premium cosmetics and diffusion cosmetics. ModelCo is currently available in Australia, New Zealand, the UK, Europe, the US and Canada. We are set to expand further into Asia and the Middle East in 2018/19 and increase distribution throughout Europe, the UK and US.

HM: From the launch of ‘tan in a can’ 15 years ago, to collaborating with Karl Lagerfeld this year, ModelCo has come a long way. What have been some of the biggest turning points in your business journey?

SS: Since the launch of the first two products, the ModelCo range has grown to include over 120 different products including makeup, skincare tanning products.  When I first went to market I didn’t realise at the time that I was starting my own beauty empire. What started as a pet project turned into a global brand before I knew it. However, it hasn’t all been smooth sailing. There was a time prior to the GFC when the business was expanding internationally at a rapid rate. When the export markets fell over, some of my distributors rapidly closed,  which was out of my control, so I made the decision to pull out of certain markets. I needed to be agile and shift the financial aspects back to Australian soil. Concentrating our efforts on the local market for the past three years has been one of my wisest decisions and we’ve seen the business go from strength to strength.

HM: What was it like selling beauty online in Australia when you first started? What are some of the biggest changes you see happening in the industry today?

SS: When ModelCo first launched our e-commerce site there was much less competition from global brands rivalling for our customers’ attention. We used the platform as an engagement tool, providing our customers with bespoke content relevant to their interest. The last few years have seen a shift to social media now driving sales conversions so we’ve had to adapt and change the way we speak to our audience. I am constantly thinking about our consumer and trying to understand what she wants. ModelCo is able to capitalise on social beauty trends and create fast beauty products.

HM: What factors are driving growth at ModelCo now?

SS: Our speed to market is one of our greatest strengths. The millennial girls are addicted to immediacy – instant gratification has caused a shift in consumer behaviour – everybody is looking for the next best thing as quickly as possible. ModelCo can act quickly. Our team has the design and manufacturing experience essential to delivering product solutions that are as innovative and cool as they are marketable.

HM: What are some of your top priorities for 2018?

SS: We are honoured to partner with Karl Lagerfeld, one of the world’s most renowned and iconic names in design, and make the Karl Lagerfeld + ModelCo limited edition beauty collection the most coveted beauty collection of 2018. This super fun, highly coveted and collectible collection will combine our high-quality formulas and innovative, technical packaging with Karl Lagerfeld’s unmistakable artistic aesthetic that’s sophisticated, modern and cool. The relaunch of ModelCo premium cosmetics in the second half of 2018 will see the brand come full circle as we return to our roots of must-have, innovative, smart beauty.

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